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Supreme Court to review ban on virtual child porn

By The Associated Press

01.22.01

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed today to decide whether Congress can attack child pornography by banning computer-altered pictures that only appear to show minors involved in sexual activity.

The court said it would hear the government's argument in Reno v. Free Speech Coalition that by banning sexual images that do not actually portray children, a 1996 law "helps to stamp out the market for child pornography involving real children."

A coalition of adult-oriented businesses that challenged the ban says it violates free-speech rights, and a San Francisco-based federal appeals court agreed.

The Child Pornography Prevention Act expanded a long-standing ban on child pornography to prohibit any image that "appears to be" or "conveys the impression" of someone under 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

The law targeted computer technology that can be used to alter an innocent picture of a child into a depiction of a child engaged in sex.

The Free Speech Coalition, a California-based trade association of adult-oriented businesses, challenged the law in federal court. The group said it opposes child pornography, but that films and photos produced by its members could wrongly be deemed to show minors engaged in sexual conduct.

The group did not challenge a section of the law that banned the use of identifiable children in computer-altered sexual images.

A federal judge upheld the law, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in December 1999 the provisions challenged by the coalition violated the Constitution's free-speech protection. The court said the government did not show a connection between computer-generated child pornography and the exploitation of actual children.

Several other appeals courts have upheld the provisions, and in the appeal acted on today, Justice Department lawyers asked the nation's highest court to resolve the conflict.

The government has a compelling interest in preventing the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, government lawyers said, adding that pedophiles often use pictures to seduce children into sexual activity.

Because it is hard to distinguish computer-generated pictures from those actually portraying children involved in sex, "The government may find it impossible in many cases to prove that a pornographic image is of a real child," Justice Department lawyers said.

The Free Speech Coalition's lawyers said that even without the disputed provisions, the 1996 law "remains a comprehensive and effective tool for fighting the real evils of child pornography."

Update

Law banning virtual child porn facing real test
Supreme Court to consider whether youthful, though fake, characters in pornographic material should be outlawed like traditional child pornography.  10.29.01

Previous

Federal appeals panel strikes down key provisions of computer child-porn law
'Congress has no compelling interest in regulating sexually explicit materials that do not contain visual images of actual children,' 9th Circuit rules.  12.20.99

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